Why Brad Keselowski's Bittersweet Daytona 500 Finish was Sweet for RFK Racing

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Daytona 500 Showing Boosts Keselowski, RFK RacingIcon Sportswire - Getty Images
  • According to reports, Brad Keselowski was offered a contract extension to stay with Team Penske beyond 2021.

  • It is believed he said no because he would almost certainly never become a part-owner of the Penske racing organization.

  • Keselowski went on to sign a deal to become driver and part owner of RFK Racing.

It was about 15 months ago that former NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski ended his 13-year relationship with Team Penske and signed on as part-owner and full-time driver for the Ford-based Roush-Fenway Racing team.

Keselowski had made his name with Penske—34 Cup Series victories and the 2012 championship—so the move from hired gun to owner/driver with a financial stake in RFR was not without its challenges.


“I think it will bring a lot to the organization, from not only Brad’s ability behind the wheel, but a rejuvenation and fresh perspective across our teams,” Roush, a NASCAR team owner since 1988, said at the time. “I’ve had the opportunity to watch Brad for a number of years, as he has fought and clawed his way up the ladder, molding himself into a champion and one of the top drivers in our sport. I’ve always admired his resolve and determination. I’m very pleased that he has chosen to be a part of our organization and I’m proud to partner with him moving into the future.”

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Brad Keselowski left Penske Racing to be a part owner of RFK Racing and to help turn the team around.Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

According to reports, Keselowski was offered a contract extension to stay with Team Penske beyond 2021, but said no because he would almost certainly never become a part-owner of the organization.

“He and I talked about this over the years,” Penske told motorsports writer Nate Ryan. “There were discussions about having ownership in the team, but the way we’re structured and the subsidiaries we have, it wouldn’t have worked out. He understood that. It was amicable all the way.”

Roush Fenway Racing was delighted to get a driver and deep-thinker as good as Keselowski. So far, it looks like the bold career move is paying off.

Last year, the first for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, he and teammate Chris Buescher won both 150-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500. Later in the year, Buescher won the notorious night race at Bristol Motor Speedway. But despite Keselowski’s “new-look” leadership role, RFK didn’t have great success. Combined, he and Buescher had just the one victory, four top-5 finishes and 16 top-10s. Buescher was 21st in points, Keselowski 24th.

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Brad Keselowski, left, and Chris Buescher could be a formidable tandem this season.Chris Graythen - Getty Images

All along, though, Keselowski cautioned that rebuilding the once-formidable Roush-owned team would be neither quick nor easy. He urged patience and understanding, telling critics and cynics alike that he felt his new technical and administrative and personnel approaches would yield solid results sooner rather than later. It had been years since Roush’s precious Fords had been consistent NASCAR winners.

If Sunday afternoon’s Daytona 500 is any gauge, Keselowski’s “sooner” might be sooner than even he expected.

In the No. 6 Ford, he led six times for a race-high 42 laps and Buescher, in the No. 17 Ford, led five times for 32 laps, second-most among the 21 drivers who swapped the lead 52 times. But the results are mixed: Buescher finished fourth overall, second among the Ford drivers. And after leading in the final laps, Keselowski was relegated to 22nd-place finish when he crashed on the 211th lap of the 212-lap, double-overtime race, the longest in Daytona 500 history.

Not surprisingly, Buescher had mixed emotions about the day. “Ultimately, even getting back to fourth” (after losing ground in the first overtime), it should feel good, but I feel like we had more in us today,” he said. “We just weren’t able to hoist that trophy. Between both of our cars, we were up front a lot of the day; there’s a ton to be proud of. I just got a little behind in the first overtime and survived the next one.”

It was, all in all, a bittersweet day… but one that will help RFK get better.